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Repaying Debts of Gratitude
Ho-on Sho -


"Repaying Debts of Gratitude" is one of Nichiren Daishonin's ten major writings. It is dated July 21, 1276, a little more than two years after the Daishonin had retired to Mount Minobu. It was prompted by the news of the death of Dozen-bo, the chief priest of the Shobutsu-bo of Seicho-ji temple in Awa Province, who had been the Daishonin's teacher when he first entered the temple as a boy of twelve. Nichiren Daishonin wrote this treatise as an expression of gratitude to Dozen-bo, and sent it to Joken-bo and Gijo-bo, his former seniors at Seicho-ji who later became his followers. Mimbu Niko, one of the Daishonin's disciples, took this writing to Seicho-ji temple on his behalf and read it aloud, at Kasagamori on top of Mount Kiyosumi where the Daishonin had first chanted daimoku, and again in front of the tomb of the late master, Dozen-bo.

In 1233, Nichiren Daishonin had entered Seicho-ji temple to study Buddhism with Dozen-bo as his teacher. At that time, temples served as centers of learning as well as religion. During his stay at this local temple, the Daishonin developed his extraordinary literary skills which later proved so valuable in propagating his teachings. He also embarked on a lifelong journey to find and proclaim the unique truth of Buddhism, which had been all but obscured by the emergence of various misleading sects. Seicho-ji had first belonged to the Tendai-Hokke sect which adhered to the teachings of the Lotus Sutra passed down from T'ien-t'ai and Miao-lo of China to Dengyo of Japan. But later it fell under the influence of, first, the Shingon sect with its mystic rituals, and later, the Jodo or Pure Land sect with its reverence for Amida Buddha. Thus, even at Seicho-ji temple, the confusion within Buddhism as to its proper form was starkly evident, and this situation did not escape the young priest's attention.

On the morning of April 28, 1253, Nichiren Daishonin climbed to the summit of Kasagamori and chanted the first invocation of the supreme Law, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Thirty-two at the time, he had just returned to Seicho-ji after more than ten years of study at temples in Kyoto, Nara and other major centers of Buddhist learning. It had been arranged that he would give a sermon at noon in the Shobutsu-bo to relate the fruits of his efforts. On that occasion, the Daishonin not only proclaimed Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to be the sole teaching leading directly to enlightenment in the Latter Day of the Law, but he also denounced the doctrines of the then-prevalent Pure Land sect. Among the members of the audience was Tojo Kagenobu, the steward of the area and a fervent Pure Land believer. Furious, he sent his men to the temple to arrest the Daishonin. Dozen-bo was himself an ardent believer in the Pure Land teaching, but he had great affection for his young disciple. While afraid to defend him openly, he instructed two senior priests, Joken-bo and Gijo-bo, to show the Daishonin a little-known path which would lead him to safety.

Nichiren Daishonin and his former teacher met again in 1264, when the Daishonin went to visit his home in Awa Province after returning from exile on the Izu Peninsula. He later wrote that Dozen-bo had asked him on this occasion if his practice of the Pure Land teaching would lead him into the hell of incessant suffering. In reply, the Daishonin told Dozen-bo that he could not free himself from the effects of his slander unless he revered the Lotus Sutra as the fundamental teaching. Afterward, though he did not entirely recant his belief in Amida, Dozen-bo carved a statue of Shakyamuni Buddha. The Daishonin rejoiced that Dozen-bo was apparently beginning to see his error, because he felt indebted to this man who had initiated him into the priesthood and earnestly desired to lead him to the correct teaching. Even Dozen-bo's death could not diminish the Daishonin's feelings of gratitude toward his teacher.

In the opening section of this Gosho, Nichiren Daishonin states that those who study Buddhism should without fail repay their obligation to their parents, their teachers, the three treasures of Buddhism and their sovereigns. He stresses the importance of repaying gratitude as a fundamental aspect of human behavior. Of the four debts of gratitude mentioned above, this writing emphasizes specifically repaying the debt owed to one's teacher.

Next, Nichiren Daishonin states that in order to repay such debts, one must master the truth of Buddhism and attain enlightenment. In order to accomplish this goal, he must set aside all lesser considerations and dedicate himself single-mindedly to the Buddhist practice. However, to attain enlightenment, one must also practice the correct Buddhist teaching. The Daishonin points out that while each of the ten sects of Buddhism -- Kusha, Jojitsu, Ritsu, Josso, Sanron, Kegon, Shingon, Tendai, Zen and Jodo -- insists on its sole legitimacy, in fact none of them accurately reflects the true intention of the Buddha. In the body of this Gosho, in tracing the development of the various sects of Buddhism in India, China and Japan, the Daishonin examines their doctrines in terms of the relative superiority of the sutras on which they are based, emphasizing the supremacy of the Lotus Sutra. In particular, he refutes the erroneous doctrines of the Shingon sect. He vehemently denounces Jikaku and Chisho who, though they were patriarchs of the Japanese Tendai sect, corrupted the sect's profound teachings, which are based on the Lotus Sutra, by mixing them with esoteric elements. The Daishonin concludes that only the Lotus Sutra contains the ultimate truth and, moreover, that the essence of the sutra, and of the whole of Buddhism, is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. This is the teaching to be propagated in the Latter Day of the Law.

The concluding part of the Gosho makes clear that the Buddha of the Latter Day is none other than Nichiren Daishonin himself, and that the Buddhism he established comprises the Three Great Secret Laws-- the invocation of daimoku of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the object of worship and the high sanctuary-- which are implicit in the depths of the Lotus Sutra but have never before been revealed. The Daishonin declares that this teaching is so profound that it will save people for the ten thousand years of the Latter Day and more, for all eternity.

The Daishonin also makes it clear that in establishing the Three Great Secret Laws for the enlightenment of all people, he is at the same time repaying his debt of gratitude to the deceased Dozen-bo. The Gosho, "On Flowers and Seeds," written two years after the present work, states, "The blessings which I, Nichiren, obtain from propagating the Lotus Sutra will return to Dozen-bo" (The Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 217). This passage restates the message of the concluding part of "Repaying Debts of Gratitude."

This Gosho is particularly important because it is the first extant writing in which Nichiren Daishonin specifies each of the Three Great Secret Laws. These three, the core of the Daishonin's Buddhism, constitute the doctrine hidden in the depths of the Juryo (sixteenth) chapter of the essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra, and represent the Law which was transferred to the Bodhisattvas of the Earth in the Jinriki (twenty-first) chapter for propagation in the Latter Day. The true object of worship is the Dai-Gohonzon which the Daishonin inscribed on October 12, 1279, to enable all people to attain Buddhahood; the daimoku of true Buddhism is the chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with faith in the object of worship; and the high sanctuary is the place where the object of worship is enshrined and the daimoku is chanted to it. The Daishonin established the daimoku and the object of worship himself, but he entrusted his followers with the mission of attaining kosen-rufu and establishing the high sanctuary where all people may go to worship the Dai-Gohonzon.

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